Friday, June 22, 2007
Ex-Soviet nations in Baku summit
18 June 2007- BBC News, Baku By Matthew Collin - Leaders from four former Soviet countries eager to reduce Russian influence and forge closer links with the West are meeting in Azerbaijan. The regional organisation is named GUAM and includes Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Though not an anti-Kremlin alliance, this is seen as an alternative to the Russian-dominated post-Soviet group, the Commonwealth of Independent States. The politically-charged issue of energy will be high on the agenda. Each of the four countries which makes up GUAM has had disagreements with Moscow over the past year. Issues have included large price rises for Russian gas and Moscow's ban on imports of leading Georgian and Moldovan products. Wide variations The leaders of some of the GUAM countries are keen to develop regional co-operation on economic issues like pipelines which take oil and gas to Western markets, bypassing Russia. Three of the four states also have long-running problems with separatist conflicts. Talks will continue at the summit in the Azeri capital, Baku, about the creation of a joint peacekeeping force, which some hope could ultimately be deployed in the volatile breakaway regions. One of the key aims of the organisation is to deepen European integration - another tendency which is not appreciated in Moscow. GUAM calls itself the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development. But there are wide variations in the standards of democracy in the four countries - and while some of them have rapidly developing economies, others remain poor and still need international assistance.